10 Great National Historic Trails, from California to the Chesapeake



Slide 1 of 12: One of the best ways to learn history is to literally follow in the footsteps of those who were there, says Karen Berger, author of the new book, "America’s National Historic Trails" (Rizzoli, $55). “These are historic routes – a trail version of the National Park system,” she says. The 19 federally recognized trails range from 54 to 5,000 miles, and pass largely through rural areas, making them perfect for road trips and socially distant traveling. The author shares some favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Slide 2 of 12: Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, Alabama Although the shortest trail at just 54 miles, this route resonates with many travelers, retracing 1965's famous five-day voting rights march to the Alabama state capitol. The trail crosses the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where the late Rep. John Lewis and others were beaten by police. Mostly following U.S. Highway 80, the route lets travelers delve into civil rights history at visitors centers, museums and memorials. More information:  nps.gov/semo
Slide 3 of 12: Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail The 4,900-mile route tracing the Lewis and Clark Expedition stretches across the country from Pittsburgh to Astoria, Oregon, taking travelers over the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast. Since much of the original route was along waterways, it allows travelers to float wild and scenic rivers. “It’s sometimes called the journey that opened the American West,” Berger says. More information:   nps.gov/lecl
Slide 4 of 12: Santa Fe National Historic Trail   Stretching 1,200 miles across five states, this route brought American traders to the edge of the Spanish empire until it was eventually eclipsed by railroads. Today, travelers can see tall grass and shortgrass prairies, and visit museums and monuments before reaching the trail’s end at the Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  More information:   nps.gov/safe

Slide 5 of 12: Trail of Tears National Historic Trail In 1838, the Cherokee Indians were forced off their lands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia and relocated to what is now Oklahoma. The series of migration paths are among the most documented in the National Historic Trail system, Berger says, with scores of museums, monuments, parks and markers along the routes. Today, the Cherokee are the largest of the nation’s federally recognized tribes, with most in Oklahoma and a smaller contingent who evaded relocation in the southeast. More information:  nps.gov/trte/
Slide 6 of 12: Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, Arizona and California This route commemorating the settlement of San Francisco Bay is one of several trails linked to southwestern settlement and trade. It focuses on Spanish expansion from Mexico that was occurring at roughly the same time as the Revolutionary War back east. The trail highlights include missions, parks and hiking paths. More information:   nps.gov/juba
Slide 7 of 12: Oregon National Historic Trail  Overlapping at times with the California, Pony Express and Mormon Pioneer trails, this path was an emigration route for families making a new start in the West.  “Imagine a 2,000-mile journey with small kids, most of whom were walking,” Berger says. “This is about overcoming diversity, optimism and starting a new life and escaping poverty.” Today, travelers can still see wheel ruts where covered wagons once passed. More information:  nps.gov/oreg
Slide 8 of 12: ”It’s not very well known, but it’s considered one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War,” Berger says of 1780's Battle of Kings Mountain, in which southern mountain men outsmarted British forces.
Slide 9 of 12: Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail  During the latter half of the Revolutionary War, the British found themselves outmaneuvered and outsmarted by southern mountain men, who won 1780's decisive Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina. ”It’s not very well known, but it’s considered one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War,” Berger says. This trail through Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, includes driving and hiking routes. More information:  nps.gov/ovvi

Slide 10 of 12: Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, Hawaii  Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, this pathway explores an area developed by ancient Hawaiian settlers. The 175-mile corridor includes routes through lava fields, by beaches and up mountains. “On some parts you can walk on rock that was the Polynesian equivalent of pavement,” Berger says. More information:  nps.gov/alka/
Slide 11 of 12: Iditarod National Historic Trail, Alaska This pathway made famous by the annual Iditarod Anchorage-to-Nome dogsled race includes a network of 2,300 miles of winter trails first developed by Alaska natives to connect villages. “It was an important factor in the settlement of Alaska. Most of its accessible only during the winter,” Berger says. (Note: The Bureau of Land Management has temporarily closed some visitor centers in Alaska due to COVID-19.) More information:  blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/national-scenic-and-historic-trails/iditarod
Slide 12 of 12: Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail: Centering on the Chesapeake Bay, this water-and-road trail not only commemorates English explorer John Smith, but also the region’s Native American Indian history and cultures. In total, it includes more than 2,000 miles of shoreline. Smith, who sailed to America in 1607, was a larger-than-life personality. A former pirate, slave and mercenary, he developed Jamestown, Virginia, and explored the Bay and its tributaries, creating detailed maps of the region. “His biography, you couldn’t make up,” Berger says.
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